Affecting between nine and thirty percent of the U.S. population, eczema refers to inflammation of the skin. The term eczema actually covers many various skin conditions that produce itchy, dry skin patches. Although it can appear anywhere on the body, eczema usually appears on the creases on the face, arms and legs. Because of the intense itching that accompanies eczema, people often scratch the skin which leads to crusting and oozing.
A non-contagious skin condition, eczema has no known cause. It does appear to have a hereditary component. Certain things, such as stress, weather and environmental factors can trigger a flare-up of eczema. People with eczema often live with cycles of flare-ups and remissions.
In mild cases of eczema, over-the-counter topical creams and antihistamines can relieve the symptoms. More severe eczema may require stronger medications, such as steroid creams, oral steroids (corticosteroids), and antibiotic pills or antifungal creams to treat any potential infection. Using mild cleansers and keeping skin moist can help control your eczema.
Types of Eczema
Depending on the nature of the trigger and the location of the rash, eczema can take on different forms. Common types of eczema include:
- Atopic Dermatitis
The most frequent type of eczema, atopic dermatitis, tends to come and go producing itchy, inflamed skin. Generally, atopic dermatitis will cycle through flare-ups and remissions throughout a person’s lifetime. Atopic dermatitis seems to have a genetic link and is thought to occur because of an abnormal immune system response. Triggers can include environmental factors, contact irritants, stress and allergies.
- Contact Dermatitis
When the skin comes into contact with an allergy-producing agent or an irritant, contact dermatitis occurs. After the contact, the skin often develops redness, itching and burning in those areas. If you have a history of allergies, there is an increased risk for developing contact eczema. Reactions to laundry detergents, soaps, cosmetics, fabric and poison ivy are common causes of contact dermatitis.
- Dyshidrotic Dermatitis
An irritation of the skin on the palms of hands and soles of the feet is called dyshidrotic dermatitis. It causes clear, deep blisters that burn and itch. More common during spring and summertime or in warm climates, dyshidrotic dermatitis develops in up to 20 percent of people with hand eczema.
Also referred to as Lichen Simplex Chronicus, neurodermatitis is a chronic skin inflammation that occurs because of a continuous cycle of scratching and itching in response to a localized itch, such as a bug bite or a hive. Women develop neurodermatitis more frequently than men and it is usually seen in people ages 20 to 50. With neurodermatitis, scaly patches of skin form on the head, lower legs, wrists, or forearms; these areas may become thick and leathery with time.
- Nummular Dermatitis
Characterized by round patches of scaly, crusty, irritated skin, nummular dermatitis usually shows up on the arms, back, buttocks and lower legs. A chronic form of eczema, nummular dermatitis is fairly uncommon and often develops in older men.
- Seborrheic Dermatitis
Often seen in families, seborrheic dermatitis causes oily, yellowish and scaly patches on the scalp, face or other body parts. Common examples include dandruff in adults and cradle cap in infants. Seborrheic dermatitis does not always itch; a frequent symptom associated with other forms of eczema.
- Stasis Dermatitis
Found on the lower legs of middle-aged and elderly people, stasis dermatitis has symptoms of itching and/or reddish-brown discoloration of the skin on one or both legs. Related to circulatory and vein issues, stasis dermatitis can progress to blistering, oozing and skin lesions.